Apr 182013

Pianist Randy Weston and arranger Melba Liston will be honored in a celebratory concert at the New England Conservatory.

By J. R. Carroll.

“African Rhythms”: Randy Weston with the NEC Jazz Orchestra, Thursday, April 18, 8 p.m., in Jordan Hall

NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston is literally and figuratively a giant, a formidable pianist and a distinctive composer informed by a long engagement with the music of the African continent. Weston will receive an honorary doctorate from the New England Conservatory in May, but this evening at 8 p.m. he wraps up a three-day residency by joining conductor Ken Schaphorst and the NEC Jazz Orchestra in Jordan Hall for a program entitled “African Rhythms”.

Melba Liston and her 'Bones

The remarkable Melba Liston:
arranger, bandleader and trombonist.

The concert, drawing upon selections recorded by Weston on his 1960 Uhuru Afrika, 1963 Highlife, 1973 Tanjah, and 1991 Spirits of Our Ancestors, will also pay tribute to Weston’s long-time collaborator, Melba Liston, who passed away in 1999. Weston’s compositions, including “African Village/Bedford-Stuyvesant,” “African Sunrise,” “Bantu,” “Blues to Africa,” “Hi-Fly,” “In Memory Of,” “Little Niles,” “Sweet Meat,” and “The Last Day,” will all be presented in the rich timbral garb of Liston’s arrangements.

Born in the same year as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Liston was a remarkable figure, all the more so considering how unusual it was in the 1950s for a woman to play the trombone, much less undertake the daunting challenges of arranging and orchestration. If, of the trailblazing women who carved out an enduring place in the macho world of jazz, Lovie Austin and Lil Hardin Armstrong represented the first generation, and Mary Lou Williams the second, Melba Liston was at the forefront of the third, opening the door for Toshiko Akiyoshi, Carla Bley, Maria Schneider, Terri Lyne Carrington and countless others. Were that not sufficient, Liston and Weston’s shared fascination with African music reached back across the Atlantic to cross-fertilize jazz and the musical traditions from which it sprang—it’s hard to listen to Liston’s massed brass and not think of Fela Kuti.

All the more reason to be at Jordan Hall tonight at 8. And, by the way, the concert is free and open to the public.


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